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Title: Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly?
Author: Walton, Bryce, 1918-1988
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly?" ***

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[Illustration]


 _The body tanks had to be replenished and the ship had to
 be serviced--and the crew was having a Lotus dream in its
 bed of protoplasm. But Kelly knew how to arouse them...._


       _Has Anybody
         Here Seen
          Kelly?_

     By Kenneth O'Hara

 Illustrated by Paul Orban


The Crew pulsed with contentment, and its communal singing brought a
pleasant kind of glow that throbbed gently in the control room.

"'Has anybody here seen Kelly ... K-E-double-L-Y?'"

"Shut up and dig my thought!" Kelly's stubborn will insisted. "I'm going
on out for a while!"

The delicate loom of the Crew's light pattern increased its frequency a
little and the song stopped. "Better not," the Crew said.

"But why not?"

"No need."

"We could be running into something bad," Kelly thought.

"No danger now, Kelly. Checking the ship is just a waste of time."

"How can you waste what you have so damn much of?" Kelly thought.

"Do not leave us again, Kelly. We love you and you are the most
interesting part of the Crew when you're with it."

"The ship ought to be checked. Our bodies ought to be looked at."

"We know there is no danger any more, Kelly. Do not go. There are so
many interesting experiences we have not even begun to share yet. We are
only half way through your life and we have not even started to
experience your impressions of your colorful and complex Earth culture.
And we have not even started on the adult lives of Lakrit or Lljub. Come
back with your Crew, Kelly."

"But no one's checked the ship for over a year!"

"Please do not worry about the ship, Kelly. In fifty years nothing has
gone wrong. We can trust the ship thoroughly now, it will take care of
us."

"_It_ will take care of _us_! That's a helluva way to look at it!"

"There can be no danger now, Kelly. In fifty years we have encountered
every conceivable danger, every imaginable kind of world or possible
menace."

"Have we?" Kelly thought. "Every danger from outside maybe, and I'm not
even sure of that. But how about danger from inside?"

"Inside?"

"Us. How about apathy for instance? Apathy's a real danger. You talk
about this space-can like it was a big metal mother! Listen, I'm
supposed to see that this tub holds together. At least until we get back
somewhere near enough to the Solar system so we'll feel we've been
somewhere else!"

"But, Kelly--"

"I'm getting out for a while, I tell you!"

"All right," the Crew sighed. The light loom faded a bit, down to a
self-indulgent glow. "Hurry back to us, Kelly."

"I'll give some thought to it."

So Kelly concentrated on the increasingly painful and difficult task of
tearing his consciousness free of the big glob of protoplasm in the
tank, and getting it back into his body that hibernated in the bunkroom.

As usual the switch was too painful. It stretched and stretched and
finally snapped in an all too familiar explosion of shocking light.

       *       *       *       *       *

His bones creaked. His skin rustled as he sat up and looked around.
There was the old feeling that there was dust over everything when there
was no dust. There was all that emptiness sweeping away into the endless
silence and he thought again, as he always did, how comforting and cozy
it was being a part of the Crew.

But someone had to check the ship. It was only machinery after all, and
machinery could wear out, sooner or later. And he wasn't at all sure, as
he kept insisting, that they had encountered all the possible dangers.

It might seem that in fifty years you could run into everything. But
fifty years was no time at all out here where time had no real meaning
any more.

His body squeaked as he took a few tentative steps about the bunkroom.
One did not actually forget how to walk. It was just awkward as the
devil. And the blood, the entire autonomic system, tended to slow down.
It seemed reluctant to step up general metabolism.

Apathy. Sure it was a danger. This time, Kelly decided, I'll do
something about it. He was the engineer and he had signed on the great
odyssey to keep the ship going. But the Crew was part of the ship. Was
not there an obligation even greater to keep the Crew going?

The four others lived but almost imperceptibly in some very low state of
slowed metabolism there in the bunkroom and Kelly looked at them. The
faithful and the wonderful ones. The ones with whom he had shared so
many dangers and awful silences that the five of them had been able to
evolve the idea of the protoplasm in the tank and merge their
consciousness in it.

Kew, the Venusian, in her bowl of self-renewing nitrate. Lakrit from a
Jovian satellite, a fluorine fellow of distinction inside a sphere of
gaseous sulphur. A crystalline character with a sense of humor named
Lljub, whose form gave off a paled glint as it nourished itself on
silicates. And a highly intelligent but humble six-foot-long sponge
labeled Urdaz stuck in a foundation of chemical sediment at the bottom
of a tank of reprocessing salt water.

Each with their own special kind of appendages and sensitivities, each
able to move his special closed-system about through the ship by means
of clever types of mobility.

But basically, in outward form, they were too alien to have much in
common. Only as intelligences, as life forces, could they share a common
bed. And it had evolved to that in fifty years. A bed of protoplasm in a
shock-absorbent tank.

Kelly looked at them warmly and thought about how it had worked out. The
strange thing was that it did have a lot of good things to recommend it.
Or had had them. It had solved the problem of intimate communication and
driven back the tides of loneliness. It had lessened the dangers of
mental and physical illnesses in the material bodies and assured a
prolongation of the life of each body, which was important in itself,
for this trip had proven to be a lot longer than even the most
pessimistic had anticipated.

The Crew, pulsing in its tank, Kelly thought oddly, is a new life form.
One that had evolved to meet the exigencies of deep space which had
proven to be alien to any adaptability common to any world that rotated
through it.

But maybe they were too damn happy, Kelly thought. Too contented. If
they ran into a real emergency now, the ship would be finished. The Crew
in the tank was, itself, incapable of action of any overt kind. It could
not manipulate anything. It could only be happy.

And the bodies here in the bunkroom could not rally fast enough to meet
a sudden crisis.

And they had agreed that the first law was survival.

But to survive this way might well mean destruction in another.

So Kelly walked and thought about it, and weighed the precarious
balance.

He slipped through the silent ship and to the control room. He peered
into the viewscope. Some galaxy or other spun its giant pinwheel outward
toward some destiny of its own. The high noon of the endlessness had
been unfamiliar for years. He checked the ship's instruments. The Crew
in the big tank simmered and throbbed in its introspective bliss,
utterly oblivious to Kelly now.

Kelly saw the red dwarf a few hundred million kilos away. Three planets
ground their familiar path around it. The second in distance had a
breathable oxygen, according to the scopes, but little else to recommend
it.

Kelly straightened up. He had no idea when the plan had really started
forming, but now it was formed. When Kelly made up his mind to a thing,
there was no other course but to conclude it. He knew what he had to do.

Somehow, even as part of the Crew, some part of Kelly had been able to
keep that forming plan a secret. Which was a lucky miracle, for if the
Crew had known his intentions it would certainly not have let him out
this time.

Even if you wanted out, Kelly reasoned, the Crew would keep you in. And
maybe after long enough you did not care to get out. But once out, he
wondered, could it keep you out if it decided to blackball a man for one
reason or another?

Like wrecking the ship?

       *       *       *       *       *

In the chrome strip above the control panel, Kelly saw his face grinning
strangely back at him, a bearded, hollowed, paled face with an
unfamiliar glitter in the eyes. Every time he had left the Crew to enter
and reactivate his own body, that body had seemed a little less
familiar. This time it seemed to be almost entirely someone else.

He stared at the face in the chrome, then whispered the hell with that
and he flipped the controls over to manual. He sat down. Behind him, the
Crew whispered in its tank, protoplasm developed in the labs and
quivering now with some unified sensation that was purely subjective and
blissfully unconcerned with what happened outside itself.

"It's sick," Kelly concluded, with an emphatic clamp of his jaws. "It's
not right!"

True, sharing the intimate sensations of alien life forms like Kew, the
female Venusian, had been exciting. Especially the sex experiences
which, in a flower of Kew's type, was certainly something. There were
interesting things to being a part of the Crew all right. But the main
purpose, survival, had been forgotten. Now being the Crew was an end in
itself. Kelly could imagine the Crew business going on and on until
finally even the material bodies in the bunkroom would be forgotten
entirely and allowed to rot away to dust about which the Crew would no
longer care.

And that was very bad. It should not have worked out this way. But it
was not too late to do something, shake them out of the Lotus dream.

He checked the scopes again. Now the second planet revealed plenty of
breathable atmosphere settled in the lower valleys. He headed straight
for it.

The Crew was soon going to get one devil of a jolt!

He put the ship into a close orbit around the planet. It seemed nothing
but a fearsome forest of oxydized spikes rising in corrosive silence,
with here and there a lean slash of valley. There was no indication of
life, no vegetation visible or revealed by the scopes. One of the
valleys had a thin mouth of water stretching down the length of its
face. Kelly set the speed and the controls and ran for the bunkroom and
the shock-absorbent cushions. He strapped himself in and waited.

It was done. As long as the thing had gone so far, Kelly decided, the
truth should never be revealed because that would lessen the therapeutic
value of his action. He would wreck the ship. Not too badly. Not so
badly that all of the bodies, distinct, separate individual bodies
again, couldn't put the ship back together, as in the old days. And that
would keep them in their bodies gladly for a while where they belonged!
Where the good Lord had intended for them to stay.

They would not be rocked away to apathy in a phony metal mother womb,
thinking the ship was going to take care of _them_!

The more Kelly thought about it, the better he felt. He stretched inside
the straps. He felt his slightly atrophied muscles luxuriate over the
tissues and bones of his big frame.

Any body, no matter what its shape, should be proud of itself. That was
Kelly's belief, and this thing that had happened seemed somewhat
blasphemous. Without bodies and their complex sensory recording
apparatus, the rich consciousness enjoyed by the Crew could not exist,
would never have been created at all. The Crew was living off the
largesse of experience built up by their bodies. The Crew was just
narcotized enough that it did not realize that the body banks had to be
replenished.

Metal shrieked.

Kelly yelled feebly. He fought, he grappled with the threatening
blackout like a man fighting an invisible opponent on an endless flight
of stairs.

The grinding rolling terror of the sound, the ripping, twisting, tearing
scream of it cried on and on. Kelly knew one thing then.

He had not figured it right. His calculations were off. _The ship had
hit too damn hard._

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, when he managed to get the straps off and tried to move, he fell
painfully onto the tilted deck. One of his eyes felt sticky. He rubbed
at it and his hand was smeared with blood.

He shuffled around in a stumbling circle. Minor damages could have been
repaired. But this--the ship was peeled open in glaring strips like a
breakfast cannister. A cold wind moaned through the ship that was now
nothing but a metal sieve. A hazy light filtered down and ran off the
metal like cold flour rust.

Kelly fell to his knees. "Kew," he whispered. "Lljub, Urdaz--Lakrit...."

The Venusian flower lady was sliced down the middle like a cabbage, and
the nitrate bowl was shattered and Kew was dead in a pool of fading
green blood.

Smashed into the bulkhead was Lakrit's sulphuric bathtub, and his
atmosphere had already filtered away with the wind to wherever it was
going. Lljub's pale glow was out for good, and his crystalline heart was
as opaque as a dead eye. Only a few pieces of Urdaz's tank were visible,
and Urdaz himself had already turned to a powdery food that the wind ate
slowly in long trailing streamers.

"What--what in the name of God have I done?" Kelly whispered.

All dead--

No! He slammed at the bulkhead until the warped metal gave and he ran to
the control room. The Crew--the Crew--

He stared at the tank.

Through a jagged opening in the ship's walls, the wind whined and
plucked at Kelly's red hair. The wind was colder now. He kept on looking
at the tank. He reached out and touched the big transparent curve of it
and then jerked his hand back with a whimper in his breath.

There was nothing in the tank, nothing but a blob of slowly drying
slime. He pressed his nose to the tank. "Crew--" he whispered.

There was no life in the slime. When he pounded on the tank, the stuff
collapsed in upon itself in withering flatness.

Kelly yelled. The cold wind froze at his teeth. It sucked at his breath
and dried at the interior of his mouth. He ran and climbed. The jagged
periphery of the opening sliced at his flesh. But he did not feel it,
and he fell twenty feet, without feeling that either, down the side of
the ship. He started crawling over the hard naked belly of the rock.

He got to his feet. He ran stumbling down an incline of shale worn round
and shiny by the wind that had blown here just as it blew now, and would
blow for God alone possibly knew how long. He fell and rolled to the
edge of the water.

He looked into it. He felt of it. He jerked his hand away. The stuff was
icy. But it was worse than icy. It was dead. It was dead water. It was
without any bottom, and without any life in it anywhere. You could tell
by looking into it. The wind moved over the top of it as though the
water were glass, and the water was the color of a slightly transparent
naked blue steel.

There was no life here. Maybe there had been once, who knew when, who
could guess how long ago. But there was none now and even the water had
forgotten it.

Kelly cried out as he stood up. "What have I done?" He raised his arms
at the hazy red sun lying over the spires of towering stone and metal
like a bloated balloon scraping precariously over rusty spikes. "God,
what have I done?"

The cry echoed tinnily on the rocks and fled on the wind.

Kelly ran for a long way, falling and stumbling and getting up again.
Kelly had always had one primary drive, and that was to keep going, no
matter what. So now he tried to keep going.

But there was no life on this planet. He had known that before. Some
strange kinds of intelligence could tolerate some unpleasant worlds. But
nothing would live here.

Nothing _could_ live here.

"That's your fate," Kelly thought. He sat down and stared at the walls
of rock and metal all around. "Your fate, Kelly. Your punishment, your
well deserved hell."

That was what it was. Retribution. And knowing that, he tried not to
care. He tried to be glad and face what he deserved.

If that were not the answer, then why had only Kelly been spared to face
emptiness and silence and no life, all alone?

The irony of it was that he would go on as long as possible keeping
himself alive in his own hell. There was food aplenty in the ship,
enough to last as long as hell cared to have him.

He turned and started walking back toward the ship that seemed some five
miles away. At that instant, the ship disappeared in an abrupt explosion
that twisted the rocks, and a mushroom cloud flowered gently above the
lake as Kelly fell trembling on his belly and hugged the ground and
pushed his face into the shale, while the wind tore and screamed around
him and particles of flint ripped his clothes and slashed at his flesh.

       *       *       *       *       *

He did not bother walking much farther toward where the ship had been.
There was only a crater there now which would offer him nothing in the
way of sustaining his very personal and thoroughly private hell.

He walked. The effort became more difficult and finally he was on his
hands and knees, crawling. The wind sucked at his ripped clothes, and
felt like cold sharp steel in his raw wounds. But slowly and
deliberately he continued to crawl.

Kelly had always had the idea that a man should keep going and so now he
kept on going. Even if there was no place to go, and you could not
remember particularly where you had been, you kept on moving and
fighting and slugging along until you could no longer move.

He lay there looking up at the hazy rust of the sky with the naked
spires pointing up into it for no reason at all, because there was
nothing up there.

He had been there and he knew. Nothing up there but space, black and
without a beginning or end. He had not even checked the records of the
ship so that now, lying here, he did not even know how far away from
Earth he was. At the speed they had traveled, a ship went a long way in
fifty years. But the ship, the records, everything was lost.

And no one would ever know now how far they had come.

Or gone. What was the difference, anyway?

But Kelly had no difficulty in remembering _why_ they had come.

They had come into space because that was how it was with those who
fought their way up to being the dominate life form of whatever world
they had lived on and grown and died on. If you were the kind who went
into space, you went because space was there.

Who needed a better reason than that?

"Kew," he whispered. "Lakrit, Lljub, Urdaz, listen now--I thought I was
doing the right thing--maybe my idea was right--but I just made a
mistake in the calculations. I just made a helluva mistake--"

The wind sighed over the naked rock and the rusted metal and the rock
and the dead blue water.

He turned and pushed his head against the rock, and his body curled up
against the bitter wind. "You've got to forgive me," he said.

"'_Has anybody here seen Kelly? K-E-double-L-Y?_'"

He shivered and kept his eyes closed. It was part of the wind. He did
not want to go out that way, hearing crazy voices in the wind.

"'Has anybody here seen Kelly--?'"

He raised his head and blinked and the wind drove tears down his cheeks.

"Am I just hearing something that's going crazy inside my head?" He
peered around. There was nothing, nothing anywhere of course, nothing
where nothing had ever been, and nothing else but nothing could ever be.

"You're wrong, Kelly. Your Crew's here."

Kelly raised himself painfully to an elbow. "Where--_where_?"

"Right here, Kelly. We had a difficult time locating you. Sure, we
forgive you. You were trying to do what was right. We know that."

"There's nothing--nothing--" Kelly said.

"You're wrong. The Crew's here and we're waiting."

He stared at the rock. He put his face against it and pushed his hands
to it. There was a kind of dull glow in it, a faint hint of warmth in
the rock.

"How can this be?" Kelly said.

"This is the life here, Kelly. Perhaps there is life everywhere in the
most impossible seeming places. And where life is, Kelly, we can live
with it and be welcomed by it. Here, this rock is life, and it has taken
us in. It has been here a long time. And it will be here for a much
longer time."

"Rock," Kelly said.

"But hurry and come back."

"But no one will ever know. How long--how long can we wait?"

"Who can answer that, Kelly? But maybe they will find the Crew someday."

Kelly looked up once at the completely unfamiliar distances growing
darker. Sometime, he thought, they'll come from wherever Earth is and
find the Crew of the ship, find a rock here waiting the ages out.

"Hurry, Kelly!"

His head dropped against the rock. His hands slid down it, and a smile
moved over his lips and froze there as the wind whispered over it.


                                                           ··· THE END



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _If Worlds of Science Fiction_ July
    1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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